Central government’s latest Coastal Hazard Guidance to local councils was released on Friday. Long overdue, the guidance describes the serious threats to our coastal towns, but also gives excellent advice on how our communities can adapt to rising seas.
The guidance could not have come soon enough. As outlined in a must-read Newsroom investigation, Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) has recently approved four risky major coastal developments which may not have been consented, had the previous government not suppressed the Guidance.
The regional council advised TCDC to consider 2m of sea level rise for a proposed 167-lot coastal subdivision at Cook’s Beach. Sea flooding maps were produced which showed a substantial portion of the subdivision would flood at that level. TCDC ignored that advice and considered just 1m of sea level rise.
A 72-lot subdivision in Whitianga was recently consented where just 1 m of sea level rise was considered even although TCDC was aware of a draft version of the Guidance which required Council to consider 1.9m. Former Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett said Councils should have considered the draft version, but TCDC chose to ignore the draft Guidance because it was not “officially released”.
TCDC has declined to obtain an expert coastal hazard assessment for a $6.5m upgrade of the Whitianga the town centre – despite receiving advice from the regional council that the town centre area could flood from the sea and being aware of the 1.9m “stress test” for major new infrastructure in the government Guidance.
A 73-unit apartment block on the Thames foreshore was recently consented after Council relied on a 16-year-old coastal hazard report which took account of just 0.49m of sea level rise. No new assessment was required even although TCDC was aware from regional council sea flooding maps that the land was at risk of inundation under modest sea level rise scenarios.
Billions of dollars of existing Peninsula coastal property and infrastructure has been identified as being at risk from rising seas. TCDC has compounded the risk to land-owners and the potential liability for council and ratepayers by granting consent to these risky coastal projects. Thankfully, the release of the latest government Guidance will help bring an end to this lunacy, and we can begin constructive community-driven adaptive planning for what lies ahead.